Buster’s Mal Heart
Directed by: Sarah Adina Smith
Starring: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls and Kate Lyn Sheil
Rated: Not Rated
Run Time: 96min
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
3 ½ Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Writer/Director, Sarah Adina Smith, starts us off with Buster’s, journey. A very odd, non-linear, journey but one you’re happy to take along with him. He’s on a boat that’s gently rocking. Where it’s from and where it’s going are not mentioned and of no consequence… at the time being that is. Then we move to dark skies, barren trees; the cold harsh winter. We feel the misery in Buster, a man living off the grid, who busts into people’s vacant homes while they’re away. At this moment, he’s being hunted by the police. He’s shot but makes his way uphill in the snow to a cave to light a fire and find a bit of warmth for the night. He falls asleep. In the morning a bullhorn bellows his name informing him he has no escape. He stands and we’re suddenly in a different time; ten years earlier with who Buster really is, besides this rambling madman he pretends to be (the man who struggles for traction… you’ll learn all about that), he’s Jonah.
Jonah is the concierge of a small hotel in the middle of nowhere, a stop mostly wealthy people begrudgingly stay if the weather doesn’t allow them to get to their vacation home or to the airport. Alone through most of his shift, he has little to do and either thinks of his wife, Marty (Sheil) and little daughter Roxy, played by the adorable Sukha Belle Potter, or watch a television show where a man constantly speaks of the coming Inversion… whatever that means. Whatever it is, Jonah is desperate to understand it. The job is getting boring and life is getting mundane and tedious. Currently, he and his wife live with her parents and he’s beginning to get restless with their situation. One night, DJ Qualls, a person who insists he is the last free man, comes into the hotel. He starts to talk to Jonah about The Inversion and The Exterminator and The Wormhole. Jonah absorbs every word, whether he lets this strange man know it or not. The stranger cautions Jonah about things he’s heard on the television. The shift is happening and nothing will be recognizable anymore when it does. The man talks the bored employee into not only listening to his ideology and dogma but into giving him a room.
The story moves back and forth from Buster to Jonah, each time revealing a little bit more of their encompassing personalities. When on Jonah, we see his relationships begin to splinter. Things at work aren’t working out as he had hoped and he begins to take this out on Marty. He’s never happy and he starts to listen more and more to conjecture about wormholes, bloodbaths and how to survive the Inversion and being inside of the Machine. He realizes he is the very thing the stranger had warned him he’d become… a slave to they system. He wants them to move on with their lives yet still at home they’re stuck. At work, he’s stuck. He’s going nowhere… and then there’s that wormhole he keeps hearing about.
A mesmerizing Malek is incredible playing two roles, one without even speaking. Not only does he manage to be two completely different men without effort, his large eyes expose the weakness, doubt and agony within the men. Malek shows incredible range in several scenes as both Buster and Jonah and is quite impressive especially as his characters get a foothold in the story and the outcome becomes clearer. This is a fabulous odyssey. See it for his performance alone but see it because it is. It’s twisted. It’s different. It’s vibrant. It’s abstract. It’s… cosmic! And I’ve barely scratched the surface of the story. Just see it! I can’t proclaim that enough. I don’t want to give anymore away but this is a compelling script and writer/director Sarah Adina Smith did an outstanding job executing an eccentric and unconventional story that weaves you in and out of absurd situations while keeping you guessing if you’re right or not about how she’ll zip it all up.
*Opening in Phoenix at Harkins Valley Art!